Indy Study: Black on White: Black Writers on What It Means to Be White Edited by David R. Roediger

Historian David Roediger’s volume is the only systematic presentation of blacks’ writings on whites and whiteness. While my independent study is focusing on post-World War II fiction, Roediger’s expansive collection of (mostly) non-fiction seemed like an ideal place to start my study.

The range and extent of the documents which Roediger has collected is impressive. Roediger includes pieces of writing that range from the early 19th century to today, and covers a wide range of genres including slave narratives, journalism, poetry, fiction, sociology, satire, philosophy, and legal theory. It will prove to be a tremendous resource for lesson planning.

However, it must be noted that this collection can hardly be considered definitive, as it is overwhelmingly made up of pieces that fit into the ideological framework of protest and resistance probably best defined by the work of W.E.B DuBois (which Roediger certainly falls into, though with a stronger Marxist leaning). Roediger ignores voices outside of this intellectual current. There is little to be heard from the voices of a Booker T. Washington, the conservative accommodationalist, (or even the early Martin Luther King), nor from the black nationalists ranging from Martin Delaney and Marcus Garvey to the Black Power and Black Muslim movements of the past fifty years.

Most of documents in this collection fall into three different categories:

  1. Rational defenses of black humanity and diagnostic critiques of white inhumanity
  2. Pieces which seek to establish common ties and identities between white and black workers
  3. Documentations of white terrors and terrorism (particularly slavery and lynching)

As discussed in my paper on the representation of whites in select Harlem literature, Roediger divides images of whites and whiteness into two categories; “whiteness as property” and “whiteness as terror.” The first two categories of documents reflect the former, while the third obviously corresponds to the latter.

Next: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

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